By Alan Baldwin
Dutch 16-year-old Max Verstappen is set to become Formula One’s youngest ever driver after the Toro Rosso team announced on Monday that he will replace Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne in their lineup next year.
Verstappen, son of former grand prix racer Jos, turns 17 only next month and is still too young to take a driving test in the Netherlands.
Even when he does turn 17, he will still have to wait a year before he is allowed to drive unaccompanied on public roads at home.
The sport’s youngest driver to date is Spaniard Jaime Alguersuari, who made his debut with the same Red Bull-owned team in 2009 at the age of 19 and 125 days.
Alguersuari – whose arrival was questioned by some on safety grounds – was then discarded at the end of 2011 and reluctantly left the sport at an age where few others had even broken into it.
Verstappen has already built up an impressive resume, however, after starting in go-karts at the age of seven and comes from a racing family.
He has won a string of karting titles, including the world championship at the age of 15, and is currently challenging for the European Formula Three title.
“We consider Max to be one of the most skilled young drivers of the new generation and we believe he has the necessary maturity and mental strength to take on this challenge successfully,” said team principal Franz Tost in a statement.
Verstappen will partner Russian Daniil Kvyat, who made his debut with the team this year at the age of 19 years and 324 days.
Kvyat joined Italy-based Toro Rosso from the junior GP3 series and has made a strong impression, becoming the youngest driver ever to score a point when he finished ninth on his debut in Australia.
The same Red Bull junior production line has produced four times world champion Sebastian Vettel, who took his first win with Toro Rosso before graduating to the main team, and the German’s Australian team mate Daniel Ricciardo.
“Ever since I was seven years old, Formula One has been my career goal, so this opportunity is truly a dream come true,” said Verstappen, who thanked his father and sponsors for their help.
“We’ve all worked tremendously hard to reach Formula One and I will give my absolute best to be successful in the pinnacle of motorsport,” he added.
“With the return of the Verstappen name to Formula One, I hope we can relive old memories and I’m hoping to see many fans at all the Grand Prix circuits.”
Jos ‘The Boss’ was a team mate of seven times world champion Michael Schumacher when the German won his first title with Benetton in 1994, and they went on to become firm friends off the track.
The Dutchman subsequently raced for now-defunct Simtek, Arrows, Tyrrell, Stewart and Minardi.